February 16, 2008

Rosenthal Resigns

I've started this post about three times since yesterday afternoon.

I've dumped everything I've written each time -- mainly because I've been unable to prevent myself from veering off into a profane rant against Chuck Roesnthal.

After all, as I have indicated earlier, I believe he should have left office weeks ago.

Instead he hung on and damaged the DAs office here in Harris County in ways which could and should have been avoided.

Besieged by an e-mail scandal and perjury accusations, Texas’s most powerful prosecutor resigned on Friday, saying that a combination of prescription drugs had “caused some impairment in my judgment.”

The resignation of the prosecutor, District Attorney Charles A. Rosenthal Jr. of Harris County, the state’s busiest criminal jurisdiction, ended removal proceedings by the Texas attorney general.

It was a relief to fellow Republican leaders who last month quashed Mr. Rosenthal’s bid for a third term.

The office of Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican who will appoint a successor, said it had not been formally notified by Mr. Rosenthal and had no immediate response.

Asked by e-mail for comment, Mr. Rosenthal, 62, sent a terse answer: “Yeah. Right!”

The resignation, announced in a one-page statement, followed by hours the filing of a state suit seeking Mr. Rosenthal’s removal “for intoxication, incompetence or official misconduct.”

Frankly, that is a pretty good summary, and decent reporting for the New York Times. And for what it is worth, I think that Rosenthal's response to the Times is indicative of the attitude he has shown throughout the recent scandal -- that he was a law unto himself and needn't answer to anyone.

The resignation press release itself is rather interesting.

As the Houston Chronicle points out, only ten days before he had been denying medication issues.

>As recently as 10 days ago, Rosenthal publicly denied having any problems with medication to deal with pain.

At a Feb. 5 meeting with about 20 of his upper echelon administrators, Rosenthal addressed "rumors that he was addicted to painkillers" that he had heard was going around, said Julian Ramirez, a division chief.

Rosenthal said he didn't even take painkillers, Ramirez said.

So if it isn't an issue op painkillers, what medications have been rendering Rosenthal unfit for office? Has he, as accused in a lawsuit filed by Democrat activist and C.O. Bradford surrogate Lloyd Kelley (his former law partner), been self-medicating with alcohol in the office?

Now some speculate the resignation -- and the reason for casting it in terms of involuntary intoxication due to prescription medications -- has less to do with the medical issues and more to do with legal ones surrounding possible perjury charges.

Rosenthal might have admitted pharmacological drugs impaired his judgment so he can raise involuntary intoxication as a possible defense if he is charged with perjury, Kelley said.

Involuntary intoxication — such as unawareness that a combination of drugs could have a certain effect — is a fact issue that can be considered by a jury in a perjury case, said attorney Pat McCann, president of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association.

"It is a circumstance that could make it difficult to prove you intended to lie," McCann said.

And once again, we find Dr. Sam Siegler, husband of ace prosecutor and DA candidate Kelly Siegler, right in the middle of the entire mess. The information that comes out over the next few days could be critical in determining how badly damaged Kelly Siegler's candidacy is by this continually unfolding scandal. However, it confirms in my mind the correctness of my decision, communicated to Kelly Siegler in person at the GOP Executive Committee meeting on February 11, to endorse Jim Leitner for the DA nomination because he is not married to one of the principals in the unfolding scandal. She may be the single best courtroom advocate that the Harris County DA has had in recent years, but until the dust settles in this case I believe someone from outside the office and not closely related to a major figure in the case is a better option, even if her conduct has been undeniably above reproach.

And i agree with the Houston Chronicle on this point about the temporary replacement for Rosenthal.

Gov. Rick Perry now will have to appoint an interim replacement. The Chronicle urges Perry, a Republican, to pass over any of the four Republicans and the lone Democrat now seeking election to the office. Appointing a political candidate to fill Rosenthal's unexpired term would give that person an unfair advantage in the voting to permanently replace the outgoing district attorney. That would interfere with the voting public's right to choose the office's next leader.

The person who steps in to replace Rosenthal in the months before the November general election should be independent of politics, have a reputation for integrity and judgment that is beyond reproach, and have no desire to be elected to the office.

The ideal candidate, who would serve until an elected successor takes office Jan. 1, would be a person from outside the District Attorney's Office who has previous prosecutorial experience, perhaps in the federal system. Experience on the defense side of the bar would be an additional plus, because it would offer the balanced perspective that many have complained is lacking in the office.

The governor cannot be seen as taking sides between the GOP candidates two weeks before the primary, or between general election candidates. I tend to agree with the proposed qualifications as well, though I can think of candidates without all those qualifications who would help restore public confidence in the prosecutor's office again. Among these would be former DA Johnny Holmes, who built the office into one of the finest District Attorney offices in the nation during his tenure.

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NAME: Greg
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